Department of Psychology
Department of Psychology

Fall 2019 Newsletter — Undergraduate Student Spotlight: Grace Jin Metz

Wed, December 11, 2019
Fall 2019 Newsletter — Undergraduate Student Spotlight: Grace Jin Metz
Grace Jin Metz

Psychology Honors student Grace Jin Metz is researching how "identity fusion" could be affecting violence around the world.



While Liberal Arts Honors (Plan I) Psychology student Grace Jin Metz has been diligently at work this year on her Senior Honors thesis with supervisor Prof. William B Swann, her hard work has not gone unnoticed.  She was recently awarded the College of Liberal Art’s prestigious Rapoport-King Thesis Scholarship and a UT Undergraduate Research Fellowship, citing her exemplary work and outstanding essay writing.

In researching her thesis, “Not-So-Free Speech: Perceived group consensus and identity fusion foment violent protests,” Grace seeks to learn whether the many violent protests that have been erupting around the world were intensified by “identity fusion,” and how social media might have played a role. Identity fusion, she explains, is a theory developed by Dr. Swann that “explains how individuals can become enmeshed or ‘fused’ with a group or cause in such a way that the boundaries between the self and the group become porous... Identity fusion has been shown to predict extreme behaviors, such as self-sacrifice or fighting and dying, on behalf of the group.” Dr. Swann’s theory and his work on the causes of extreme group behaviors is what enticed her to want to work in his lab.

Her fascination with extreme group behavior began while taking a class on genocide in her Junior year of college. “Like so many others," she explains, "I was astounded by the ability of humans to participate in the systematic slaughter of so many innocents. Furthermore, it seemed likely impossible that all of those who ruthlessly murdered their fellow man held some individual deviation that made them especially susceptible, rather, it seemed this propensity for violence was a universal human trait. Ever since then, I have sought to explore what causes individuals to engage in radical behavior on behalf of their group. I chose to examine violent protests in my thesis to further understand this phenomenon.”

Grace's interest grew further upon noticing the violent protests that seemed to be erupting more and more around the world. "While the causes for these protests are undeniably important and worthy of attention, it is unclear whether or not the use of violence to push for meaningful change is effective, or simply dangerous and disruptive," she says. "My research examines social media, the predominant way for many to engage in communication with their peers, as a way to potentially explain violent protests.”

This rise in violence, along with the rapidly increasing popularity of social media platforms, motivated her, along with Dr. Swann, to seek to understand how the "perceived group consensus on social media affects individual endorsement of violent protest behavior," and whether "exposure to a pro-violent group consensus, as well as identity fusion and political orientation, increases willingness to participate in violent protests." She believes that this work is important for a civil society. "Violent protests are a disruptive, dangerous, yet nonetheless common way for groups to voice their concern. If we wish to create a harmonious society, it is crucial to understand that factors that lead to violent behavior. It is only through understanding the causes and or root of a problem that we can create meaningful interventions and solutions.”

Grace will graduate from UT in Spring 2020 and says that for her, college has been “a truly unique place of opportunity." She has taken advantage of exploring many different passions while at UT, and "loves having so many doors open to me in one place… The multitude of opportunities are what I shall miss the most.” She is minoring in communication studies and has been a Research Assistant in the Pennebaker Lab since Fall 2017. After graduation, she plans to pursue a PhD in either Social Psychology or Counseling Psychology. “Ultimately," she says, "I’d like to continue researching violent group behavior and teach at a university.”

A native of Houston, Grace attended school in San Antonio at TMI–Episcopal. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, yoga and photography.



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